In reversal of broader trend, Virginia school board votes to restore schools’ Confederate names

News & Politics

There has been a concerted effort in recent years to sever ties with the nation’s past. Iconoclasts and revisionists have toppled hundreds of statues, renamed species, melted down busts, removed church windows, dug up graves, changed place names, and gone so far — as the Biden administration did last year — as to remove the Jewish American-designed Reconciliation Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.

A school board in Virginia bucked the trend early Friday morning.

Two schools in the Shenandoah County Public Schools district were renamed in 2021 following a school board vote the previous year. Stonewall Jackson High School, named after Confederate infantry Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, became Mountain View High School. Ashby-Lee Elementary School, named after Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, and rebel cavalry commander Turner Ashby, became Honey Run Elementary School. The Confederates’ associations with slavery were reportedly a key factor in the decision to make the changes.

Axios reported that the Coalition for Better Schools, a local conservative group, continued pushing to change the names back after an unsuccessful attempt in 2022. The group claimed in a April 3 letter to the members of the SCPS board that the group understood “that the decision to rename these schools was made in response to discussions surrounding Confederate symbols” but that “revisiting this decision is essential to honor our community’s heritage and respect the wishes of the majority.”

After an SCPS School Board meeting Thursday night, which ran for roughly six hours and involved extensive commentary from the public, the board voted 5-1 to overturn the 2020 decision.

Opponents to the restorations suggested the changes would put a gloss on historical racism.

“If you vote to restore the name Stonewall Jackson in 2024, you will be resurrecting an act in 1959 that is forever rooted in mass resistance and Jim Crow segregation,” said one resident.

Kyle Gutshall, the lone member who voted against the motion, suggested there was no clear justification for the restoration, reported WLOX-TV.

“We’ve talked about the right way, the wrong way to do it,” said Guthall. “Things like this really come down to perspective and how you view things.”

Some supporters suggested that even an imperfect history is worth remembering.

“People in the Shenandoah Valley say that only the Confederates are the ones who did nasty things or did nasty things to black people,” said Dennis Barlow, the school board chair. “You just stopped reading your history and you’re not being realistic. War’s hell.”

The motion that ultimately passed early Friday morning requires that the restoration be implemented using funds privately donated exclusively “and not be borne by the school system or government tax funds.

Robert Watson, an assistant professor of history at Hampton University, suggested to USA Today ahead of the vote that the district may be the first in the nation to reverse course on Confederate school name changes.

“If it does get traction in the Shenandoah Valley, it probably will get some traction [in] other places,” said Watson.

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